College, interrupted: The pandemic turned my family into my best friends

4 months ago 89

In college, I had to set my own routines. And by sophomore year, I finally found my groove: connecting with people to pass my days with, editing at my college newspaper and starting to focus on writing as a career. I finally had a full, packed schedule.

By January 2020, I spent every day in The Daily Tar Heel newsroom. And we started seeing headlines about a spreading virus across the world. I remember thinking that with so few cases in the United States, maybe we’d get two weeks off school, max. Surely, everything would be fine.

Then spring break rolled around, and I had planned the rest of my year to be just fun. I had a relaxing beach trip with two of my best friends to Hilton Head, South Carolina, my formal was set for later that month — I still needed a dress, but I was confident I’d find something — then, I had our end-of-year banquet for the paper. Celebrations abounded.

But on the drive to Hilton Head, my friend Morgan checked her email. Our university extended spring break by another week before starting fully remote instruction due to COVID-19, which had just hit North Carolina. For the rest of that trip, we went about life as normal. But I started feeling a creeping dread and unease being in a crowd. 

When the school announced on March 17 that the residence halls were closing, I drove back with my roommate to officially move out of our sophomore year dorm. We threw out our dead plants, stuffed bedding and clothes into trash bags and filled her car to the brim. It was messy and haphazard (in my panic, I emptied my entire desk drawer, throwing away everything, including legal documents). She dropped me off, with my poorly packed luggage in tow, and I moved back into my parent’s house in Charlotte, 2 1/2 hours away.

We weren’t alone. The University of Washington became the first major college to cancel in-person classes on March 6, 2020. Twenty days later, 1,102 colleges or universities had followed suit. One professor estimated that the onset of the pandemic impacted more than 14 million college students.

WeWork, family edition

My first college Zoom class proved to be a disaster. I overslept for the 8 a.m. class, joined late and forgot to mute myself. But I couldn’t complain about it to my roommate afterward in the library or tell my sorry tale to friends at lunch. Instead, after logging off, I walked downstairs and my dog was there to greet me, wagging his tail and staring at me expectantly. So, I told him about it. 

My house converted into a two-story co-working space. My father, who had always worked from home, saw his office of one turned into an office of five. He’d mute his Zoom and shout from downstairs if my brothers and I talked too loudly. Or he’d stomp into the living room and turn down the TV volume himself.

My mom took calls from our kitchen table. In her days at the office, she was the type of mom who would dress up in pink Chico’s blazers. Now, she took calls in her pajama pants. 

My brother Jackson, a junior in high school at the time, had been finishing up a dreaded research project and figuring out how remote AP testing would work. Joshua, in seventh grade, missed playing basketball with his friends at recess and instead, practiced his tuba from his bedroom during virtual band class. (We all quickly learned not to schedule meetings during those times.)

But by 5 p.m., when we finished up our homework and my parents took their last calls of the day, our shared office quickly turned back into our home. My brothers and I set up our old Nintendo Wii and started playing Mario Kart and Wii Sports Tennis again. We took our dog on a walk at 6 p.m. every night, letting us watch the sunset as we chatted with passing neighbors from a 10-foot distance. Then we would watch a few episodes of a show together. First, it was “Outer Banks,” then Netflix’s “Tiger King.”

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